Speech – Neli Vazquez Rowland, Event Host

A Safe Haven 25 Year Anniversary Gala
“Official Remarks”
Drake Hotel-140 E. Walton Pl. Chicago IL
November 16, 2019

Good Evening, I am Neli Vazquez Rowland and it is an honor and privilege to be here tonight.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to thank God for making this day possible and to thank and congratulate our esteemed honorees Perry Mandera and Bill Sternberg. We are truly fortunate to have you as our honorees. Thank you so much for your amazing remarks tonight. They truly touched our hearts.

Thank you to Elliot Richardson for his remarks on why helping the homeless should matter greatly to anyone who owns a business and thank you to our Testimonials who courageously shared their stories of having been homeless and now amazing human beings that all of us should be so proud to know. They represent over 125,000 lost souls who’s lives we’ve touched by supporting A Safe Haven.

We owe a large debt of gratitude to our gala chair extraordinaire Alex Pissios and the gala committee for their hard work and creativity and a special thanks to my amazing event Dream team Alicia Straughter, Katherine Agle, Jacqueline Camacho and Lynn Orman who all worked tirelessly. Thank you all for helping us produce a fantastic gala.

A special thank you also goes to our MC, Dionne Miller, from ABC 7 Chicago. Dionne cares deeply about the homeless. She comes out every year to emcee our 5k RUN -To End homelessness, and she runs it too! It is an absolute pleasure to have her lead our celebration tonight.

Of course let’s not forget the amazing Laura bretan ash voice of an angel honoree who you heard perform here tonight.

Let’s give them all a round of applause!!!

I would like to thank everyone in the room so many of whom I’ve known my whole life and some of whom I just met. I am humbled to know that you have come from all over the country to be with us tonight.  Thank you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout out to the following individuals:

Father Croelle who flew out from Rome to give our invocation.

My eighth grade teacher Mr. Krygsheld.

Our ASH Partner and VP Mark Mulroe and his family. Mark joined us a few years after we started.

Most of all my husband, Brian, who was and is my inspiration everyday. It was his story that introduced me to this world and taught me that people can recover from alcoholism and addiction.

We are getting ready to celebrate our 30 year anniversary next June and being married to Brian, raising our amazing sons, Devin and Dylan (who now work with us) and building A Safe Haven together has been the biggest Blessings and joy of my life.  It has truly been our love for each other, our kids and the cause that has carried us through the good times and the bad.  Thank you Brian for your love and your patience throughout the years.  I love you!

I want to thank my family who is here tonight without my Parents teaching us to help others and my brothers and sisters supporting us every step of the way, we would not be here today. Love you guys! (look at them)

On behalf of the more than 5,000 individuals A Safe Haven serves each year as well as our Boards, staff and volunteers, it is my privilege to express our deepest gratitude to all of you here tonight.


As I look across the room, I feel your energy—

that you believe that having a community to belong to–is essential to feeling valued, to feeling purpose, to being productive.  I would like to invite you to help me paint a vision for a better future

After 25 years,

we know that Homelessness is not an intractable problem. We have proven it. And, tonight, you too are witnesses to the miracles we see happen every day of lives restored, from the testimonials given by Nikelcia and Alfraedo that they so courageously and eloquently shared with you tonight.

Their stories represent the over 125,000 lives we have touched

At a time when their families had given up on them, the systems abandoned them or made things worse and society shunned them. We became their family, their friend and their biggest champions.  Today, they make us proud as they succeed in this city and around the world.

Brian and I left our careers in finance to pursue something that had never been done before.  It was our vision and dream … to build a place where almost anyone in crisis regardless of their age, race or religion and ability to pay was welcomed to have a place to start over at life again.

Our success was dependent upon the many of people who have played a role in helping us get here 25 years later.  Our success belongs to everyone who played a part in our success.

We are both humbled and grateful for your help.  But there is much work still to be done and although we are proud, we are compelled and eager to push forward

You see. We consider it our solemn duty to serve those who are the least among us.

There are individuals who are dying from what is called deaths of despair—Hopelessness right before our eyes.

We are proud to be part of a movement that tackles poverty and tries daily to eradicate homelessness and addiction right here in Chicago. We know this is a daunting challenge, but we also know that together we can fix it.

At the core of A Safe Haven’s mission is to make everyone feel that they belong, cared for and empowered to take care of themselves and others.

A Safe haven is a place where if anyone should should ever falter, need help for whatever reason, they can have access to good care in spite of their age, family make-up, income level, race or religion. That world is in our reach. In fact, Many people tell us that that world exists within our walls and our network at A Safe Haven.

Over the next 25 years, we at A Safe Haven, are committed  to building on our foundation.  In order to do this, we need a collective will and a commitment that fosters success for all and especially for the least among us.

(Call to Action)

Will you please join us?  Can I count on you to help us achieve success for all?

For the first time in our nation’s history we are finally talking about the important issues of criminal justice reform, the homeless, opioid epidemics and the lack of affordable housing and even the lack of workers.

That means we have a golden opportunity to reimagine a new system a system that we can all be proud to leave to our children.

Folks, I declare today is the day  Today, is the beginning of ending homelessness and that starts NOW!

Shoulder to shoulder, we must fight for the soul of this city, watch out for each other, and protect those in poverty who are homeless and addicted, we share each other’s burdens. THAT is what A Safe Haven is all about.

By being here today, let’s me know we have angels who believe in us and in the fact that ending homelessness is a shared noble goal.

We must plan for the long haul and work tirelessly until we can lay claim to our promised land. We shall prevail! We must!

Which means you have to do something. You can do a little or a lot. Thank you to those who have raised a paddle, picked up a silent auction item and made a donation, we ask that everyone here tonight do something here tonight.

Join us!

And if you do, we ask that you get 1 other person to join our fight against poverty and homelessness, and if you do, there are 3,000,000 people who live in our city and there are 86,000 homeless, if we all did our part, I promise you, we could end homelessness overnight.

By your presence in this room tonight you have said you will not forget the forgotten. 

On behalf of myself, Brian and our entire family at A Safe Have, Thank you from the bottom of our hearts 25 years and God Bless.